Rex Tillerson Testifies

As I said last week, the Tom Barrack trial could shed light on what was possibly the most corrupt, self-dealing piece of the Trump presidency’s foreign policy in the Middle East—that is, the administration’s response to the 2017 blockade of Qatar. The trial’s look into the blockade involves everyone from former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Jared Kushner (whose name is on the witness list for the government, and whose testimony, in my opinion, the defense would be crazy not to commandeer).

Tillerson was brought in yesterday as a government witness and was asked about Barrack (whom he could barely remember) and also, thankfully, about Kushner (whom he definitely did remember).

For the scoop on Tillerson’s testimony and information about everything going on in the Barrack trial, see “Vicky Ward Investigates.”

“Lizzy Sex Relax” and Other Russian Aliases

Yesterday, the DOJ announced the unsealing of a grand jury indictment of a Russian oligarch, charging Oleg Deripaska, his girlfriend Ekaterina Voronina, and two other women (one a U.S. citizen who was taken into custody) with violating the sanctions that have been imposed on Deripaska and one of his corporate entities since 2018.

The indictment tells a curious labyrinthine story that raises more questions than it answers.

Find out why at “Vicky Ward Investigates.”

Misadventure in the Middle East

Over the weekend, I read the court transcripts of the first two days of the trial of former Trump Inaugural chair Tom Barrack, the Lebanese-American billionaire and Trump crony who has been charged with lobbying on behalf of the UAE without registering as a foreign agent (thereby profiting from his own investments with the UAE), obstruction of justice, and lying to the FBI.

Several fascinating takeaways:

  1. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster are government witnesses—at least according to one of Barrack’s lawyers, Randall Jackson.
  2. Jackson also told the judge that the “key” to Barrack’s defense is a first-person eyewitness account of what actually happened behind the scenes regarding the Trump White House’s initial endorsement of the blockade of Qatar (the gulf state which houses the U.S. airbase Al Udeid) by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt.

Here’s what Jackson told the judge:

Here, the specifics of what each of the countries wanted to do is very, very particularized knowledge and in this case, it is — the actual way those events played out is key to our defense. We are actually, as Mr. Schachter previewed in his opening statement, we’re going to get into it in the course of this trial exactly what Mr. Barrack’s position was as it relates to the Qatar blockade and exactly what was the position of various people within the White House. … [T]he particulars of that, Judge, are actually key to our defense.

Now, the story of what exactly happened regarding the U.S. support of the blockade of Qatar started in June 2017 is critical for what it ought to reveal—not just about Tom Barrack and his business interests in the region, but also the business interests of Jared Kushner and Donald Trump and how they conflicted with U.S. national security in the region.

Read the rest at “Vicky Ward Investigates.”

I Go Inside the War Room with Steve Bannon & Peter Navarro at a Very MAGA Book Party So You Don’t Have To

Monday was a very unusual day. I got up early and watched the Queen’s funeral. (I am headed to D.C. tomorrow, courtesy of the British Embassy, for the service in the National Cathedral and I will write to you all about that afterwards.)

As for Monday evening: In my diary were two book parties that were not only at the same time but also in different cities. One was for The Servants of the Damned by David Enrich of the New York Times, about which I wrote last week. That was in New York, where I live, and thus was the one I was planning to go to.

The other was for Taking Back Trump’s America by Peter Navarro, China-hating economist and former Trump White House advisor. As you may know, Navarro is headed to trial in November for refusing to comply with a Congressional subpoena about January 6th, and a judge has just denied his objections, so I thought it was interesting that he’d be having a party on the rooftop of 101 Constitution Avenue, a spot above the swanky Charlie Palmer steakhouse with a stunning view of the Capitol. I wondered who was paying and who’d be going (and not going).

In Navarro’s book, he derides almost every former colleague and person he ever met—so I wondered:

A.) Who did Navarro write this book for? (He can’t have many “friends” from the Trump era. My guess is the book is for Trump, who is carefully—and weirdly—not blamed for all the “personnel” mistakes that, in Navarro’s telling, caused both the disastrous policies and the failed 2020 campaign.)

and

B.) Who would go to this book party? (Navarro writes that he is now considered such a political outlier, he cannot even get on Fox News.)

So, in the name of curiosity, I went to D.C.

Read my dispatch at “Vicky Ward Investigates.”

Why Do Lawyers Get Away With Things They Shouldn’t?

As I’m in the midst now of making three different podcasts for Audible that have to do with the complexities of the rule of law, the courts, and controversial high-profile lawyers, I was intrigued when David Enrich, whose work I have long admired, sent me a copy of his new book, Servants of the Damned: Giant Law Firms, Donald Trump, and the Corruption of Justice.

In the book, Enrich—the New York Times’ Business Investigations Editor—looks at Jones Day, one of the world’s largest law firms, and the ways in which, he argues, the firm has become corrupted, a shield for corporate interests and also Donald Trump. Yet, other than Enrich, no one has held Jones Day to account! Why is it that lawyers and law firms often escape unscathed from situations in which the rest of us might be held to account? It’s a pressing, important question.

You can read our conversation at “Vicky Ward Investigates.”

Another Epstein Enigma

If you remain understandably puzzled over the enigma of Jeffrey Epstein’s life and death, I have a story for you about the recently deceased Steve Hoffenberg, a business associate of Epstein’s whom I knew well—but whom I understood not at all.

Listeners and watchers of “Chasing Ghislaine”—my podcast on Audible and the docu-series of the same nameI co-produced with James Patterson for discovery+—will know of my strange personal history with Hoffenberg. I first met him when he was in prison in Devens, Massachussetts, in the fall of 2002. I was at that point reporting on Epstein for Vanity Fair and, at a time when no one understood how Epstein appeared to be so wealthy, I realized that Hoffenberg, a name once well-known but forgotten in New York by then, had been a mentor of Epstein’s in the late 1980s and, further, that he had paid for Epstein’s office rent and loaned him millions of dollars for a couple of investment schemes that went belly-up. In 2002, Hoffenberg was serving the early years of a 20-year jail sentence, so I contacted him via the prison authorities, and he invited me to come and see him. I don’t think he had many visitors.

It was a meeting I’ll never forget.

Read the rest at “Vicky Ward Investigates.”

The Queen: What She Meant to Me

It’s been a while since I’ve posted my newsletter (I finally got struck with Covid), so apologies for being away. There’s much to talk about: Steve Bannon’s indictment(“What was he thinking?” has been the refrain from people close to him); the upcoming trial of Trump’s inaugural chair Tom Barrack and what it signifies; the death of Epstein associate Steve Hoffenberg, whom I knew well and who yet remained an enigma until his sad, lonely death in Derby, Connecticut. All these and more will be coming in the next few days—but, today, as someone who has dual citizenships (British and American) and who spent the first 27 years of my life in the UK, there’s only one subject to write about: the Queen.

Read my personal reflections at “Vicky Ward Investigates.”

The most revealing part of Jared Kushner’s new memoir? What it leaves out.

Since leaving the Trump White House, Jared Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, have abandoned their pre-Washington lives as socialites in Manhattan and are seeking to live in comparative isolation in Indian Creek, an island in Miami-Dade County known as “Billionaire Bunker.” Kushner’s somewhat brief period of solitude ended on Tuesday, however, with the release of a new book humbly titled “Breaking History.”

It’s been reportedthat the couple’s Northeast decampment is partly because they doubt the reception they’d get — at least publicly — from many of their old New York friends. Key figures in Trump’s administration, their efforts to always appear “the good guys” have often backfired. Kushner’s polished veneer started to wear especially thin in the context of his freewheeling approach to foreign policy and much else.

(Take for example my own reporting that he may have endorsed or at the very least failed to prevent a 2017 blockade of Qatar, home to the U.S. air-base Al-Udeid. That blockade raised questions as it occurred soon after Qatari investors reportedly rebuffed his father on a key real estate deal. Nine or so months later, that deal would be saved by Brookfield, a Canadian real estate investment trust whose largest outside shareholders are the Qatari government.)

So why would Kushner, who says repeatedly in his new memoir that he prefers to be in the background, want to write an autobiography in the first place?

As his words make clear, again and again, Kushner actually loves the limelight, the awards, the pats on the back — from world leaders and from himself. He is his own best hype man, with eternal confidence in his abilities as a negotiator extraordinaire, a disruptor who achieved peace in the Middle East where more boring, traditional mindsets failed.

The point of this book, I realized as I struggled through to the end of its 500-plus pages, is classic historical revisionism. Kushner is trying to cement his personal legacy as he sees it: An individual following in the footsteps of Churchill and Roosevelt; a figure who quietly re-shaped world history in the shadows of his more flamboyant (and, in his mind, brilliant) father-in-law.

We, the media who covered the Trump administration, knew that Kushner “got” Trump, which gave him an advantage. But, according to the book, Trump also really “gets” Kushner, even when everyone else around them doesn’t. “Jared’s a genius,” said Trump, according to Kushner. “People complain about nepotism — I’m the one who got the steal here.”

The biggest problem (although there are many) with Kushner’s book — whether by omission, contradiction, or a self-serving recasting — is the way it glosses over the subtext that came to define and complicate Kushner’s wide-ranging White House portfolio: money.

Were Kushner’s transactions abroad and domestically made in the interest of America or in the interest of Kushner himself? Congress has asked for all of Kushner’s correspondence with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in the wake of a $2 billion investmentby the Saudi Public Investment Fund in a new Kushner fund. (Kushner has not been charged with any wrongdoing.)

When Kushner entered the Trump White House, his family business, the only place he’d ever worked, had a major problem. There was a clock ticking on a $1.8 billion mortgage on a Kushner Companies building in Manhattan that no one wanted to buy. This meant that foreigners with big checkbooks and a desire to curry favor with Kushner Jr. had a blatant (and potentially illegal) opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by coming to the rescue of his cash-strapped father.

Despite this context, Kushner failed to follow protocol and disclose the full portfolio of his investments on his White House forms correctly, requiring multiple revisions, nor did he fully divest from his real estate holdings (which is not something he discusses in the book).

Members of the intelligence community reportedly felt uneasy about Kushner’s interactions with some foreign governments — something former national security adviser H.R. McMaster discovered and then talked to him about — because his business entanglements could make him vulnerable to “foreign-influence operations.” (This is not something he discusses in the book.)

His application for top-secret security clearance was also originally rejected due to concerns about possible foreign vulnerabilities, as NBC News reported in 2019. But those concerns were ultimately overruled.

None of this — you guessed — is clarified in “Breaking History.”

So we are supposed to take at face value Kushner’s accounts of meetings with people like the Saudi Crown Prince. Are we supposed to believe they were united merely by a common interest in idealism and reform? Here’s Kushner on his burgeoning camaraderie with the prince as they planned the inaugural U.S. state visit to Saudi Arabia:

“’Everyone here is telling me that I’m a fool for trusting you,’ I said. ‘They are saying the trip is a terrible idea. If I get to Saudi Arabia, and it’s just a bunch of sand and camels, I’m a dead man.’

He laughed and assured me that he was also facing internal skepticism, but would not let us down.”

In what is perhaps the most galling passage in the book, Kushner gives MBS a pass for Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death because he’s a “reformer” — and that’s what matters above all in Kushner’s world of political expedience.

Kushner’s book has lofty ambitions. But just like his self-imposed Florida exile, it also makes him appear further divorced from American reality than ever. Writing for The New York Times earlierthis month, reviewer Dwight Garner hilariously described the book as “a tour of a once majestic 18th-century wooden house, now burned to its foundations, that focuses solely on, and rejoices in, what’s left amid the ashes: the two singed bathtubs, the gravel driveway and the mailbox. Kushner’s fealty to Trump remains absolute. Reading this book reminded me of watching a cat lick a dog’s eye goo.”

Ultimately, Kushner’s selective re-casting of world events is free of self-awareness and overflowing with pomposity. It’s not a compelling combination. And it’s not even well written.

Will The Real Jared Kushner Please Stand Up

What happens when you give someone so brimful of over-confidence and un-self-awareness a senior job in a White House run by Donald Trump?

Well, interestingly, in his new book, Kushner himself can’t help but tell us. He does it by contradicting himself in what he says just pages apart. And he does it by omission, taunting his enemies, gossiping, and issuing self-justifying opinions that don’t jar with the memories of multiple people around him—or even with public record.

Read the full piece at “Vicky Ward Investigates.”

“Clown Prince”

Last week was a very busy week for former White House advisor Peter Navarro.

On Monday, Navarro published a scathing article in something called the “American Greatness” entitled “The Clown Prince of Pennsylvania Avenue.” No prizes for guessing that it was about Jared Kushner. Navarro squarely blamed Kushner (as well as former Trump campaign chief Brad Parscale) for Trump’s 2020 election loss. Navarro claimed that, in regard to Kushner’s upcoming memoir Breaking History (which I covered earlier this month and about which I’ll have my own review shortly), “the work of fiction Jared is now readying for publication is just more self-serving manure to shovel over the past and obscure our view of the damage.”

On Wednesday, Navarro filed a motion with federal court in Washington, asking that the criminal contempt of Congress charge brought against him after his failure to comply with a House January 6 Committee subpoena be dismissed.

Two former White House colleagues of both Navarro and Kushner told me they found the apparent feud between the two men “ironic” because, as one remembered it, it was Kushner who brought Navarro into the White House, having looked on Amazon for books on trade with China and “discovered” Navarro and on-boarded him—“the sloppiest vetting imaginable,” according to this person. Now, Navarro says that this is absolutely not what happened. Kushner, he says, had nothing to do with his hiring. (See the full Q&A for Navarro’s version of events.)

Meanwhile, a second source from the White House says the irony here is that Kushner didn’t fight hard enough—if at all—against Navarro’s ideas or influence over Trump. “The president didn’t let us fire Navarro, but we all hated him,” says this person. “Every chief of staff tried to try to make Navarro disappear. Yet the president kept protecting him. Jared kept shrugging his shoulders. In typical Jared fashion, he didn’t get involved. And in the beginning, Jared defended Navarro’s hiring.”

Given all this, I asked Navarro to explain his reasons for his assault on Kushner and Kushner’s upcoming book, given that he’s dealing with what is presumably a time-consuming—not to mention very high-stakes—legal battle with Congress.

To read or listen to our Q&A, go to “Vicky Ward Investigates.”